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DAVENPORT, Iowa – Tuesday night week before last someone knocked on Samira Corbadzic's apartment door in north Davenport at 8:45 PM.
She says he was wearing a dark suit and had what appeared to be a gun and badge on his waist. The detective warned Corbadzic to not vote in the upcoming November election.
Before the warning, Corbadzic, who was not expecting the visit, feared the worst.
"I thought it was something with my family in Europe, my ex-husband or son," Corbadzic says. "I thought maybe there had been a bad accident."
Corbadzic, a single mother of four who immigrated to the United States from post-war Bosnia in 2000, says the investigator asked about her recent travels, work status, ex-husband, income and other personal questions.
"He almost asked me how I live my life without working," Corbadzic said. "I feel so ashamed and scared and, you know, and you expect something is going to happen really bad."
"He asked me about child support," Corbadzic recalls. "And I said, ‘Listen, I'm so sorry for interrupting you, but can I ask you something? Am I in trouble?'"
It was then that Corbadzic says the investigator revealed the purpose of his visit: she had voted illegally in 2008.
Corbadzic is a permanent resident of the U.S. but not a U.S. citizen. She says she thought her green card gave her citizen status and therefore in 2006 signed a voter registration form. Based on that, Scott County registered her as a voter and issued her the proper paperwork.
Two years later, Corbadzic voted in the 2008 general election.
"I being so happy (on Election Day 2008), excited to finish and I'm like, ‘Oh, my God, I vote!' Corbadzic recalls. "This was the first time I vote in United States."
Almost four years after casting that ballot came the nighttime knock on Corbadzic's door.
The investigator who showed up earlier this month identified himself as Daniel Dawson. Before the Iowa Secretary of State assigned him to investigate potential voter fraud, Dawson worked on major crimes such as homicides for the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI).
Corbadzic says after her September 11 meeting with Dawson, she learned one of her neighbors had also been visited by someone matching his description who questioned the neighbor about Corbadzic's whereabouts. Diane Monty tells KWQC that on August 27 someone wearing a badge knocked on her door and asked her about Corbadzic.
"He didn't say why he was looking for her," Monty says. "He showed a black-and-white photo that looked like a mug shot of her and asked if I knew when she would be home." Monty says the encounter made her "uneasy" and concerned for Cobadzic's well-being.
Corbadzic recalls around the same timeframe seeing a well-dressed stranger in a vehicle she did not recognize in the parking lot by her apartment.
"I feel scared," Corbadzic says. "I never know, ‘Are they watching me now?'"
Different Sides to a Story
DCI Assistant Director Charis Paulson speaks highly of Dawson, telling the Associated Press that he has strong communication and leadership skills. "He's excellent at interviewing and looking at all the evidence to weigh it and evaluate it," Paulson told the AP. With Iowa's 99 counties, Paulson said, the assignment involves "a lot of leg work" for which Dawson is well-suited.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz defends using DCI to investigate potential voter fraud, telling the Associated Press "I think we're doing the right thing" and that "[t]he results will show that." Schultz told the AP, "It's something we really didn't know if there was fraud going on. That's why we needed a professional to do the investigations."
KWQC contacted the Iowa Secretary of State's office to inquire about its voter fraud investigation, specifically about Corbadzic's complaints. Spokesman Chad Olsen said the office could make no comment because the investigation is now exclusively in the hands of the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation and any questions would have to be directed there.
KWQC contacted the DCI investigator Dawson by phone. Dawson said he is restricted in what he can say because he does not want to jeopardize the integrity of his investigations. He says of Corbadzic's complaints that "there's different sides to a story out there, and all I can say is that we have active investigations and that when we actually present the case to the county attorney, more information will come to light."
When asked about the wide range of personal questions Corbadzic said he asked her, Dawson explained he is conducting a criminal investigation and the questions depend on the individual.
"It's a case-by-case situation," Dawson said. "We have to figure out people's immigration status. There's a variety of things we're looking at here in these cases to determine if they warrant trying to pursue a criminal charge."
As for the timing of his 8:45 PM visit to Corbadzic's apartment, investigator Dawson told KWQC that there are no time-of-day restrictions to his in-home visits. "There's no parameters," Dawson says. "It's basically dependent on when a person would be home or what their status is."
Corbadzic describes herself as a stay-at-home mother who spends most of her time at home out of necessity to care for her four children, the youngest of which has Down's Syndrome. "I leave home for school in mornings Monday through Friday to work on GED from 8:30 to noon," Corbadzic says. "Other than that, I'm almost always here."
Corbadzic says she now regrets allowing Dawson into her home and answering his questions. "I see gun, and I see he's really a cop and he can arrest me if I don't answer some questions," Corbadzic recalls.
Corbadzic says she has since learned that she was entitled to ask Dawson to leave her home without answering any questions.
Corbadzic says the most upsetting part of Dawson's visit was his warning. Corbadzic says Dawson told her, "'If you vote this year in November, we're going to ship you back [to Bosnia].'"
Prosecuting Voter Fraud
Whether or not Corbadzic attempts to vote in November, the fact that she voted illegally in 2008 is already potential grounds for deportation if she is successfully prosecuted. The decision to pursue any given case will be left to that county's prosecutor.
Des Moines immigration attorney Jim Benzoni says prosecutors may be hard pressed to go after the cases. "They probably won't want to be seen as mean or weak for going after people who've done nothing else wrong except vote illegally," Benzoni says. "People will wonder, ‘don't you have any real crime to go after?'"
Another potential issue is that under Iowa law, voter fraud must be committed "willfully." If someone unknowingly casts a ballot illegally as Corbadzic says she did, some believe that does not meet the fraud standard.
Upon reviewing Corbadzic's 2006 voter registration form, Scott County Auditor Moritz says, "I don't think Samira (Corbadzic) committed fraud here." Mortiz notes that while Corbadzic's signature on the form does equal her affirmation that she is a U.S. citizen, boxes asking her to verify her age and citizenship were left unchecked. "That's unusual," Moritz says. "It looks like somebody said ‘fill this out and sign here' and she did."
Asked about the "willful" standard, investigator Dawson cautioned that the definition of "willfully" may be viewed differently by the courts because under Iowa Code "there are multiple definitions of ‘willful' there."
Attorney Benzoni also points out that, willful or not, "ignorance of the law is no excuse" for immigrants or anyone else who votes illegally.
Last week, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation filed election misconduct charges against three people in Council Bluffs alleging they, like Corbadzic, registered to vote without U.S. citizenship and voted in at least one election.
Corbadzic says she is fearful of being the next to be arrested and ultimately deported from the country that has been her home for 12 years. She is anxious not knowing what will happen next or when. Investigator Dawson told KQWC Thursday that he cannot estimate the length of time his investigation will take.
Corbadzic says she will not vote again and plans to voluntarily cancel her Scott County voter registration. She maintains she voted in 2008 purely out of civic duty without any fraudulent intent.
"I'm not guilty," she says. "I didn't know."
County vs. the State
Only one month before Dawson visited Corbadzic, Iowa county auditors were informed he had been hired by Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz to investigate voter fraud in their counties. Republican and Democrat auditors alike have complained about a lack of advance notice and questioned the investigation itself.
Jones County Auditor Janine Sulzner, a Republican based in Anamosa, told the Associated Press it was "extremely unfortunate" that auditors had not been informed earlier of Dawson's hiring. She also told the AP that the number of voters under investigation in Iowa, said to be as many as 3,000, is "a little suspicious" and that auditors should be involved.
Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, a Democrat in the same county where Corbadzic lives, agrees with Sulzner. She says she has asked to see the list of voter names under investigation in her county but has been denied access. She says investigator Dawson told her he is looking into 180 voters in Scott County, but she questions whether the number is actually that high.
Moritz also questions the manner in which the State is investigating voters like Corbadzic. "I'm concerned when anyone is fearful and especially knocking on someone's door at nine o'clock at night," Moritz says. "Maybe a single woman, not sure who's there, what their rights are, who they should call. All those things are frightening to individuals."
"We're five weeks before an election," Moritz says. "How does that hamper other individuals coming out to polls and being concerned to vote?"
Echoing the complaint that county auditors should be involved, she says of Corbadzic's investigation that "[Scott County] would have done it a little more sensibly with a little more compassion."
"We auditors want more than anyone to prevent illegal voting," Moritz says, "but we also don't want to scare people away from the polls."